Today we begin the new liturgical year. During this year we hear the Gospel as told to us by St Mark. But do not think that we hear it the same way as we did three years ago.
This is a new year; we are older and hopefully wiser. Although on the surface we might think and feel the same, underneath we have changed. Time has moved on; our experience is richer and changes have occurred in our lives; we are indeed different. So, with these different ears let us hear the gospel afresh. Let us make an Ecclesiastical New Year’s resolution to be particularly attentive to the Word of God especially as presented to us in the Gospels in this coming year.
If I were to make one suggestion to help you it would be to take the Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the Gospels, and invite you to read it through in one sitting. It is only twenty-five or thirty pages and it will take less than an hour of your time even if you read it very reflectively.
This will help to set the scene for the year ahead. It will help you get the feel of Mark who is much more urgent and insistent than the other Evangelists. In Mark Jesus is always going somewhere immediately or directly; he is always on the road leaving here or going there. Jesus’ teaching is always fresh, direct and very much to the point. No words are wasted.
We begin our new year with the Season of Advent. It is a season in which we prepare for the celebration of the anniversary of the coming of Christ into our world. It is a season which looks back to that most crucial of all events; the one which was the effective beginning of our redemption.
But it is also a season which looks forwards. It looks forward to the second coming of Christ at the end of time. We already heard last Sunday about the final judgement; in this season of Advent we learn how to prepare ourselves and in the liturgy we express our longing for the Kingdom to come. It is a season in which those words in the Our Father, ‘thy kingdom come’, are especially significant
In the Gospel selected for today Jesus tells us to be on our guard and to be ready for that day because we cannot know when it will come. All we do know is that the Master will certainly come and that we must prepare ourselves to be ready to greet him.
Because over 2000 years has gone by since the time of Christ, we tend to think that we will not see the Last Day in our earthly life. We think this despite the fact that in the last half-century enough nuclear bombs have been produced to blow the world to smithereens several times over.
However, one thing that we can be absolutely certain about is that we will all die, that we will all meet God and that we will all experience judgement. We surely hope that we will not be found wanting. We hope with all our hearts that Christ will find us worthy on that great day of days. Of course, we can hope as much as we like, but unless we actually do something about it all our hope is in vain.
The message of today is that sorting ourselves out is not something that we can leave till tomorrow. Our moral failings must be dealt with today. Tendencies towards spitefulness, malicious gossiping, correcting other people’s mistakes, telling untruths, dishonesty, failures in our relationships, etc, etc, must all be dealt with today.
Repentance and making amends cannot be delayed. We know that sin is a contaminant; it pollutes our lives. We know that, like a bad stain on our clothes, the longer we leave it untreated the harder it is to remove. So, it is not only a question of being on our guard against new sins, we must also repent and make amends for all those old ones.
We are, however, especially blessed because we live in a Christian community. We in the Church are all striving for holiness. We are all aiming in the same direction and there is strength in numbers; it is far easier for us to grow in holiness together rather than alone and isolated.
St Paul points this out in the second reading. Like him we should be thankful that we have so many teachers and that so many people around us are actively witnessing to their faith in Christ. His prayer for the Corinthians, and we presume also for us, is that God will keep us steady and faithful until the last day. That is the clue to achieving it, of course, that God keeps us steady and faithful. For this is something that we cannot do by our own efforts, something we cannot achieve simply by ourselves.
In the First Reading Isaiah says that without God our natural inclination would be to drift away from him and become proud and independent. But God has revealed his face to us in the person of Jesus Christ and through him acts in our lives constantly guiding and protecting us. He invites us to trust in him and place ourselves in his hands just like clay in the hands of an expert potter. If we place our trust in him, he will surely shape our life and make it a thing of beauty and lasting joy.
It is right that, like St Paul, we should thank God that so many teachers and examples of faith surround us. But more important is that we ourselves should become one of those teachers and examples of faith. By doing so we will not only help others gain salvation but will surely also gain it ourselves.
There are not enough positions as catechist available in the parish to accommodate everyone, nor do we really need to be crowded out by dozens of deacons and priests and sisters. But there are many other ways to teach. The simplest acts of kindness, the times we give encouragement or affirmation, the inclusion of other peoples’ needs in our prayers—all these are ways we can teach and give example to our faith. Let us resolve in this New Year to make this New Year a year of grace, a year in which we move decisively towards God and away from our sins.
A rather wealthy aristocratic lady had an audience with Pope Pius X. As she knelt before him and let him take her hands into his she asked the Pope if there was anything she could do for the Church. She expected to be asked for a hefty cheque towards some worthy cause but the Pope looked at her very kindly and simply said: ‘Teach catechism’.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket